Celine’s Controversy

By Fei Lu

Since fashion became an entity to view, purchase, and celebrate, there have been significant moments in its timeline. In contemporary history, we think of McQueen’s Armadillo high heels that graced magazine editorials worldwide, and who can also forget the DHL t-shirt made by Vetements that changed the trajectory of luxury streetwear. But amidst all the whimsical or downright odd collections that have come in and out of style, few will be as significant as Hedi Slimane’s first collection for Celine (minus the accent).

During this Paris Fashion Week, fashion fans and media alike took polarizing stances on their reaction towards the new designer’s vision. Removing Phoebe Philo’s ethos from the brand entirely, Slimane changed everything from the logo to the air that Céline breathed.

Emaciated models strutted down the catwalk, wearing clothes with sequins and glossy leather which emphasized their jutting bones. From the über short skirts to the YSL borrowed-le smoking jackets, the collection generated a wildfire of controversy.

From Vanessa Friedman at The New York Times to Emilia Petrarca at The Cut, the outrage that ensued was uncontainable. Virtually everyone who loved Céline’s past of celebrating strong women, objected to Slimane’s new vision. It appeared to portray the objectification of women, along with the celebration of unhealthy physicality. Not to mention, the materialization of rejecting female personal dignity.

The collection still had the burning embers of Saint Laurent Paris, and it appeared redundant. Having said that, you have to give credit where credit is due: To elicit countless themes of misogyny in a single evening is not easy.

Slimane of course, had his own opinions. “At Celine, the weight of the past is not as strong as at Dior or Saint Laurent,” he told Business of Fashion in September. “We can break free of it more easily.”

And break free he did.

Fashion theory has always strived to find the balance between the commerciality of retail, mythos of design, and frivolous nature of luxury. And needless to say, Celine’s controversy has become a prime example of fashion dialogue.

Slimane’s vision does well with the general mass market of fashion consumers that may not care about the quality of fashion. It is only about buying for the sake of hashtags and “unboxing” video posts on Youtube. Céline becoming Celine symbolized the death of fashion’s integrity, bowing down to the power of celebrity and social popularity.

As fashion critics, we are all entitled to our opinions of fashion. Personally, I am a loyalist to Philo. After Slimane joined Celine, I scoured the web for Philo-era Céline, and bought myself a pair of pony hair boots.

In the grand scheme of things though, there is the notion that Celine will still sell. Maybe even more than before. Phoebe Philo fans worldwide can stop protesting, because frankly nothing will come of it. LVMH’s decision to appoint Slimane was well calculated, and was for numbers and social significance.

And in that sense, he is the best choice.

Just not the one any of us wanted.


Fei Lu is our Editor-at-Large at BIAS Journal and a graduate student of Parsons School of Design. His work directly references his adolescence in Beijing and finding cultural identity as an American expat. He splits his time between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City.